Bail lowered by $1M for New Orleans woman facing manslaughter counts in double slaying _lowres

Gilda Woodridge

A former school employee smiled and hugged her attorney Tuesday after prosecutors announced they were dropping charges against her in connection with a 2015 double homicide at a New Orleans East apartment complex.

Gilda Woodridge, 29, no longer faces two counts of manslaughter and one count of obstruction of justice in connection with the killing of Vernon Lewis and Daniel Millon, who were both 24.

Woodridge’s defense attorney, Robert Toale, had long complained that authorities charged her in an attempt to prevent her from testifying in defense of her fiancée, Ahmad Rainey, who admitted at his trial last week to shooting the men.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," Toale said. "There has never been any evidence against Gilda. A dismissal today is bittersweet considering that these charges have cost Gilda her job, her house and time with her four children. Hopefully, Gilda will be able to get her life back after this harrowing experience."

A jury last week convicted Rainey of manslaughter in the killing of Lewis but acquitted him in the killing of Millon. He was also convicted of obstruction of justice for disposing of the rifle he used.

Woodridge and Rainey had just bought a house together on Dec. 28, 2015, when a dispute over where Lewis and Millon had parked their motorcycles turned fatal.

Rainey said Millon’s motorcycle was blocking the entrance to his downstairs apartment at the Hidden Lakes apartment complex. Woodridge went upstairs to ask the men to move their motorcycles.

Rainey painted Millon as the aggressor in the hallway confrontation that followed. He said that Millon was stepping forward to attack him with a pistol — which was never recovered — when Rainey opened fire in what he said was self-defense.

Yet Rainey was more ambiguous about what type of threat Lewis posed to him. He acknowledged that Lewis had retreated before Rainey shot him.

Meanwhile, the testimony of the lead detective on the case seemed to point away from Woodridge’s guilt. Former New Orleans Police Detective Jana Thompson acknowledged that while Woodridge was accused in an arrest warrant of “luring” the men downstairs, there was no evidence that she participated in the shooting.

Under questioning from Rainey’s defense attorney, Frank DeSalvo, Thompson said the sole reason she had obtained a warrant for Woodridge’s arrest was that Woodridge stood next to Rainey during the shooting.

“It’s what she did not do … She stood behind and watched and did not attempt to stop anything that took place,” Thompson said.

“And in your opinion, that could make somebody guilty of murder?” DeSalvo said.

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

Even the state's sole eyewitness, Darneka Williams, said nothing to implicate Woodridge. Williams, who was involved in a romantic relationship with Lewis, described Woodridge as polite.

Woodridge was a behavioral interventionist at Sci Academy in New Orleans East and the mother of four of Rainey's children.

The District Attorney's Office declined to comment on its decision to dismiss the manslaughter and obstruction charges against her.

Although the manslaughter counts were the most serious charges Woodridge faced, her legal troubles are not at an end. She picked up new charges while out on bail last year.

She was accused of simple criminal damage to property in September and of illegal use of a weapon and aggravated assault with a firearm in October.

Criminal District Court Judge Byron C. Williams warned Woodridge to stay out of trouble if she makes bail on those lesser charges. She remained in custody Tuesday.

Williams is due to sentence Rainey on May 4. He faces up to 40 years each on counts of manslaughter and obstruction of justice.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432